Loading...

The Shape of '06 

The Republicans have one theme, but that’s one more than the Democrats

Wednesday, Feb 15 2006
Comments

BY NOW, WE KNOW whom Karl Rove was talking to when he accused the Democrats of being a permanently pre-9/11 party several weeks ago. His target audience, it’s increasingly apparent, was Republican senators and congressmen who are growing uneasy with the administration’s defense of warrantless wiretapping and the National Security Agency’s monitoring of messages without court approval.

In the Senate alone, such Republicans as Arlen Specter, Sam Brownback, Lindsay Graham, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski have been throwing cold water on W’s wild-ass wiretapping. This thoroughly confounds Rove’s political strategy. For the real message of Rove’s speech was simple and a bit desperate:

“Hey, guys. We have nothing to run on except 9/11. We can’t run on the war, or the economy, or our competence, or our ethics. The only line we can draw that puts us on the side of truth and justice and the Democrats on the side of cosmic wussery is that we’re tougher than they are; that we don’t think we need a court order to wiretap anybody when our security may be at stake, or even when it’s not. If you oppose us on this, you slit your own throats. IT IS ALL WE HAVE TO RUN ON!”

Related Stories

  • How to Vote 8

    You know the incumbents. So our June 3 voter guide is about the other stuff - like a comedic race for judge featuring candidates so bad the bar association finds both "Not Qualified." One is Charles Calderon, who L.A. Weekly previously reported as one of the worst legislators in California. There's...
  • Fighting for the Right to Lose to Gov. Brown 50

    Like most people, Bill Bloomfield does not think Neel Kashkari will be the next governor of California. Jerry Brown, he says, is "clearly going to be re-elected." Nevertheless, Bloomfield has decided to dip into his family's wealth — he made a pile on coin-op laundry machines — to pay for...
  • California Controller's Race: Swearengin Wins Spot But Did John Perez? 4

    Betty Yee, Ashley Swearengin and a relatively known Republican, David Evans, are pushing California Speaker John Perez into a tie for third place for California Controller in early returns, mostly absentee ballots. Evans' solid showing in absentees is somewhat unexpected in the fight to replace the popular outgoing Controller John...
  • Jeb <3 Mexicans

    Why would the leader of L.A.'s true-blue Federation of Labor invite a member of the uber-Republican Bush family to town? To talk about immigration, of course. L'est you forget, George W. Bush was generally seen as being pro-immigrant (as well as a friend of then-Mexican President Vicente Fox), despite launching...
  • Are There Limits to Fandom? Readers Respond

    The Limits of Fandom Are we more than the sum of the things we like? A May 30 essay by John Roderick, singer for The Long Winters, argued that the answer is yes — and that "the nerd liberation movement," which allows us to build our identity around the media...

But what do the Democrats plan to run on? In what looks to be shaping up as a Democratic year, the party’s leaders in Washington are curiously mute about how exactly they plan to commend themselves to the American people. Given that the American people prefer the Democrats’ position on the vast majority of issues, and overwhelmingly want the government to go in a different direction, the Democrats’ drift is perhaps the foremost political mystery of the day.

Last week, I sat in on a press breakfast, hosted by The American Prospect (the liberal monthly I work for in Washington), with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Reid’s was an engaging but frustrating performance. Asked about his party’s prospects, he noted that all incumbent Democratic senators on the ballot this year had comfortable leads, and reeled off five states where Democratic challengers led Republican incumbents: Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri and Montana. Tennessee, where Bill Frist is stepping down, is in play, too, he said. For their part, Reid’s counterparts in the House assert that over 30 Republican seats are now in jeopardy; the Democrats need 16 to attain a majority.

And how would the Democrats get to that majority? Reid trumpeted that his New York colleague Chuck Schumer, heading up the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, had raised far more money than his Republican counterparts. And (we journalists were realizing they had to get more specific) what exactly was the Democratic message? Well, said Reid, the party had opposed Social Security privatization, and had blocked other Republican initiatives as well.

We took one more run at it (actually, several): Senator, what are the Democrats for?

That’s when Reid grew reticent. And his reticence isn’t personal; it’s institutional.

On the one hand, the Republicans are falling of their own accord: Their war is a bloody quagmire; their economy is one in which incomes fall amid a recovery; their new Medicare drug program is a free-market travesty; their competence is a joke; their ethics, a disgrace. But, taking these in order, the Democrats have no coherent position on the war; they have a far saner economic posture than the Republicans but no idea how to generate good jobs in a global economy; they have decent discrete health-care ideas, but have not embraced a universal public system, though the private, employer-provided system is crumbling daily; their competence can’t be worse than the Republicans’, but, since they control nothing, neither can it be demonstrated, and their failure to have a coherent message suggests they might not be all that competent, either. Some congressional Democrats — Congressmen Barney Frank and David Obey, most particularly — have advanced some far-reaching clean-government ideas, but the party has been inept at capitalizing on the Abramoff scandal, which is the worst D.C. has seen in many decades.

THERE ARE EXPLANATIONS, some of them decent, for the Democrats’ silence on some of these issues. The failure of the Clinton health-care plan in 1994 convinced Democrats to make no large plans when it comes to health care — a position that the daily collapse of employer-provided benefits is rapidly rendering obsolete, if only the Democrats realized it. Having lost the 2002 and 2004 elections in part because Bush painted them as soft on America’s enemies, they are scared to say even that our Iraqi intervention makes us less, not more, secure. And generating good jobs in a globalized economy is a perplexing and daunting challenge, since it probably can’t be done without changing some of the new capitalism’s ground rules.

The Democrats’ failure to capitalize more on the Abramoff scandals is curiouser still. L.A. Congressman Henry Waxman, one of the smartest political heads the Democrats have, has endeavored to link the corruption to bad public policy: Republicans are beholden to drug companies; they let drug companies shape the new drug entitlement program; that’s why the program is both impenetrable and costly. But too few Democrats have been singing Waxman’s song.

At the federal level, many Democrats still fear affronting the public’s ideological aversion to new government programs. At the state and local level, this is less the case. Democratic governors, such as Illinois’ Rod Blagojevich, are creating universal health care for children, and here in California, Rob Reiner’s June initiative to create universal preschool, funded by a tax on the wealthiest Californians, is favored to win. Congressional Democrats cannot get such measures enacted, of course, with Republicans in control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, but the lesson at the state level is that, six years into the Bush years, the public is ready for a government that actually works on their behalf.

What a notion. It would be nice if congressional Democrats realized this sometime before November.

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets

Slideshows

  • 21st Annual Classic Cars "Cruise Night" in Glendale
    On Saturday, spectators of all ages were out in multitudes on a beautiful summer night in Glendale to celebrate the 21st annual Cruise Night. Brand Boulevard, one of the main streets through downtown Glendale, was closed to traffic and lined with over 250 classic, pre-1979 cars. There was plenty of food to be had and many of the businesses on Brand stayed open late for the festivities The evening ended with fireworks and a 50th anniversary concert from The Kingsmen, who performed their ultimate party hit, "Louie, Louie." All photos by Jared Cowan.
  • The World Cup Celebrated And Mourned By Angelenos
    The World Cup has taken Los Angeles by storm. With viewings beginning at 9 a.m., soccer fans have congregated at some of the best bars in the city including The Village Idiot, Goal, The Parlour on Melrose, Big Wang's and more. Whether they're cheering for their native country, favorite players or mourning the USA's loss, Angelenos have paid close attention to the Cup, showing that soccer is becoming more than a fad. All photos by Daniel Kohn.
  • La Brea Tar Pits "Pit 91" Re-Opening
    Starting June 28th, The Page Museum once again proudly unveils the museum's Observation Pit, which originally opened in 1952 but has spent most of the last half century closed. Now visitors can get an up-close look at Pit 91, which is currently under excavation. The La Brea Tar Pits, home of the Page Museum, is one of the world's most famous ice age fossil locations, known for range of fossils from saber-toothed cats and mammoths to microscopic plants, seeds and insects. The new "Excavator Tour" is free with museum admission if purchased online at tarpits.org . All photos by Nanette Gonzales.